Analysis | Does U.S. decision impact Taiwan WHO bid?

Photo courtesy of the Associated Press

TAIPEI (The China Post) — The United States is set to exit the World Health Organization (WHO, 世界衛生組織) on July 6, 2021, after President Donald Trump followed through on his promise to take the U.S. out of the embattled health organization.

The U.S. government formally notified the United Nations (UN, 聯合國) of its withdrawal through a letter to the UN’s Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in compliance with conditions passed in 1948.

The conditions state that if the U.S. wants to withdraw from the WHO, they will need to give the UN a 12 months notice and pay off all its outstanding debt to the organization.

The decision has come under a microscope as people are curious to understand the implications of this decision on Taiwan’s WHO bid.

The U.S. decision will cause the WHO to become more reliant on China. Since Washington is currently the largest donor to the health agency, its withdrawal will leave a massive void that Beijing can fill in.

This can be seen in the situation in the past few months. Although the US has been exerting pressure on the WHO to become more independent from China, the WHO has only become closer and closer to China. This will allow China to be in the driver seat in combating future pandemics.

China’s relations have been much more positive with the WHO over the past few months, with the Chinese Foreign Ministry announcing recently that it would welcome experts from the WHO to cooperate in tracing the origin of the COVID-19 virus.

He also reiterated that the WHO and China have maintained close communication and cooperation since the beginning of this pandemic.

In reference to Washington’s decision, China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian (趙立堅) told reporters that “this is another example of the U.S. being a pursuer of unilateralism and a quitter from treaties and organizations.”

Being the next leader of the WHO, China can continue to pressure the agency to not invite Taiwan to future World Health Assemblies (WHA, 世界衛生大會).

On the U.S. front, the withdrawal will also have serious implications on Taiwan.

First, Trump’s decision has split U.S. lawmakers along party lines, making it not only harder for them to cooperate on domestic issues but also on issues such as sponsoring legislation to increase Taiwan’s participation on the international level.

Second, the leader of the coalition that had been demanding Taiwan’s inclusion in the agency will no longer be in the agency, itself.

While it is true that the United States has many allies that can still fight for Taiwan’s participation in the agency, Trump’s decision has only isolated these countries.

The same allies, such as Germany, who have fought for Taiwan’s participation are now criticizing the withdrawal.

When the initial withdrawal plan was announced, the German health minister called it a “disappointing setback for international health” as first reported by the BBC.

The EU President Ursula von der Leyen also told the BBC that “actions that weaken international results must be avoided.” While these countries may continue to have a close and firm relationship, COVID-19 has caused these nations to drift further and further apart.

From the early travel bans imposed on the EU to the U.S.’s withdrawal from the WHO, it will be seen whether these nations will continue to follow in the leadership of the US in requesting Taiwan’s inclusion.

Without the U.S., which currently serves as the strong unifying force and leader of the pro-Taiwan bloc, calls for Taiwan’s participation will be largely silenced. Although Taiwan will continue to have its remaining international allies vouch for its participation, their collective power will not be as strong as Washington’s calls.

It remains unclear whether the US will actually leave the organization given that former Vice President and presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden has stated that he will reverse this decision if he is elected.

Regardless, the current trajectory makes it evident that the path to Taiwan’s inclusion in the WHO will only become harder and harder.